At the weekend’s Group of 20 summit in Argentina, there was no greater symbol for the expected isolation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — or, rather, the apparent lack thereof — than the enthusiastic greeting the Saudi royal received from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The high-five and “bro-shake” between the two world leaders on Friday morning quickly went viral — even earning a scene on “Saturday Night Live” the following evening.
But on Monday, the Kremlin sought to downplay the significant of the greeting, with Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters that it was simply because the Saudi king and the Russian president had good relations.
“These are good personal relations,” Peskov said, according to state news agency Tass.
The Kremlin spokesman said Putin often greeted other world leaders in a similar manner when he had good relations with them. Peskov did not name other world leaders who Putin had greeted in similar fashion.
However, video footage of the G-20 summit reviewed by WorldViews did not capture any such greeting. While it does show Putin’s friendly interactions with a number of other world leaders, Putin does not appear to have been caught on camera high-fiving or greeting any others in such an ebullient manner.
Though Mohammed was once feted in Western capitals as a promising young reformer, the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 has cast a pall over the crown prince’s international reputation.
Some world leaders appear to have pressed him on the issue — video from early Friday of Mohammed meeting Emmanuel Macron showed the French president complaining that he was worried.
However, Putin’s hearty greeting contradicted any idea that the crown prince was isolated at the G-20. The two countries' spheres of interest overlap significantly in both foreign policy and economics; they met on the sidelines of the G-20 summit to discuss oil market rebalancing.
Putin and Mohammed have also both been criticized for their respective states' involvement in assassinations or assassination attempts in foreign nations. Putin himself has been accused of links to the attempted poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter, Yulia, in England in March.
Unlike other world leaders, Putin has publicly refrained from criticizing Mohammed and the Saudi government for the killing of Khashoggi.